Dining With Denise Neil

How do you make a Mediterranean festival a party? Just add wine

Church members pour clarified butter onto a pan of baklava in preparation for the Mediterranean festival this weekend at St. Mary Orthodox Christian Church.
Church members pour clarified butter onto a pan of baklava in preparation for the Mediterranean festival this weekend at St. Mary Orthodox Christian Church. Courtesy photo

The annual St. Mary Orthodox Christian Church Mediterranean Festival, which happens this weekend at the Delano church, has always been a fun celebration of food.

But this year, it’s going to be a full-on party, complete with adult beverages and an outdoor dance party.

The event, which happens every May at the 85-year-old church, has always offered visitors an authentic meal of dishes native to Greece, Lebanon, Syria, Serbia, Russia, Romania, Egypt and Ethiopia – dishes like grape leaves, hummus, cabbage rolls, kafta, kibbe and Serbian chicken paprikash. New this year, though, is the addition of ethnic beer and wine. Also new: a Friday-night parking lot party, known in Arabic as a “hafli,” that will feature food and drink for sale plus ethnic music and traditional “debke” dancing, which guests will be encouraged to try.

The event’s additions are intended to warm people up to the direction organizers plan to take the dinner in coming years. They had always envisioned it as an outdoor, two-day festival, said Sheila Cairns, a member of the dinner’s organizing committee. But they just don’t have the room in their current parking lots. In the coming year, though, St. Mary is scheduled to have both of its parking lots significantly expanded, and then the dinner can transition into a full-on festival.

Admission to the Friday-night event, which will take place in the parking lot off the north side of the church, will be free. People can purchase beer and wine plus some dishes that won’t be available on Saturday, like Egyptian potato salad and a dish called talame bread, made with spices and oil.

The full dinner will be available on Saturday, as well as beer and wine, and once again, the church will serve its famous baklava sundaes for dessert. A onetime popular River Festival dish, it layers ice cream and chocolate sauce with the famous, crunchy Mediterranean dessert. The church revived them at the 2014 dinner.

“The food is the big seller,” Cairns said. “And people love baklava sundaes. They are a big thing.”

The church has been offering some type of public dinner or bake sale for 84 of its 85 years, organizers say. Members of the church spend months preparing the food and have been working all week to put the final touches on the event.

Food can be enjoyed on-site or purchased for carryout, and items are sold a la carte. The dinner also will feature a Mediterranean Marketplace, where people can shop for traditional baked goods, pastries, breads, desserts and take-home portions of some of the dinner items. The church’s bookstore also features art, jewelry, music and books for sale.

A portion of proceeds from the fundraiser will be shared with Filling the Gap, a lunch program for kids put on by Partners for Wichita.

Diners can pay with cash, check or credit cards.

St. Mary Orthodox Christian Church Mediterranean Festival

What: A two-day celebration of food native to Greece, Lebanon, Syria, Serbia, Russia, Romania, Egypt and Ethiopia

When: 6-10 p.m. Friday for an outdoor party with food, dancing and music, and 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday for the traditional dinner and food sale

Where: St. Mary Orthodox Christian Church, 344 S. Martinson

Cost: Admission is free; food and drink are sold a la carte

More information: http://www.stmarywichita.org/festival.html

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